The Disabled People’s Movement is still alive and well

Fleur Perry, editor of Disability United, takes a look at recent reports into how well the government is actually delivering on its commitment to give disabled people the basic rights they deserve. As you can probably guess, the reports findings haven’t been all that positive. But it has uncovered an encouraging glimpse into the power of disabled people…

In November 2016, the UN released its report into the UK government’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Signing the UNCRPD was the government’s committment to extending basic human right and freedoms to all disabled people, and working toward the ideals of equality and inclusion for all.

I won’t mince my words – the report was damning. But more shocking was the fact that government appeared, in my opinion, to more or less just shrug its shoulders at it. They might as well have said [in a childish, petty voice]; that’s not true, and anyway, you’re only the UN, and you can’t take us to court or anything, so whatever.

This dealt an added blow to A LOT of people…

  • People who’d had to appeal a Personal Independence Payment decision that seemed unjust;
  • people who had no idea how they were going to pay their bills because of the ‘bedroom tax’;
  • people who’d lost their access to the Independent Living Fund, only to find that their local council would not fund the same amount of care either;
  • people who’d watched their Motability vehicle being driven away;
  • people who’d tried and failed to find somewhere accessible to live;
  • people who work and volunteer to support disabled people who’d heard the same story day-in day-out, and found that they were powerless to help, that there was no way forward for the person they cared for and who looked to them for solutions.

All of these people had been hoping that the UN would step in and do something. Many sent their stories to the UN, along with their hopes and dreams of a life free of the fear of their support being taken away, free of the social worker putting pennies above progress, and free of the word ‘cut’ being in every headline and bulletin.

These people put their time, money and faith into getting this information to the UN, and the government appeared to simply dismiss it.

You can taste the disappointment in the air – bitter and stinging. There’s a palpable feeling of shame at an accelerating back-slide in the way disabled people are being treated and viewed in our society.

The Shadow Report written by disabled people – could this offer some hope?

This wasn’t the only report into the government’s failings to be recently released. The Shadow Report, which again looks at the UK’s compliance with the UNCRPD, also makes for unpleasant reading.

But there’s a positive lining to this very dark cloud – the Shadow Report was actually created by disabled people. Reclaiming our Futures Alliance is a collection 11 disability organisations across England, all of which worked together to produce the report. Now that sort of teamwork is exactly what we need.

The report is a 58-page document which, like the report from the UN, is a disheartening read. It concisely discusses areas where the Equality Act 2010 has not delivered on its promises. It looks at:

  • how the rules around abortion and ‘do not resuscitate’ instructions have threatened disabled people’s right to life;
  • how the use of food banks by disabled people has increased and that disabled people are at a higher risk of becoming homeless;
  • how hate crime, abuse and forced institutionalisation all show no sign of becoming something of the past.

It’s a huge, mind-boggling compendium of ‘nobody voted for this rubbish’. It’s a brief guide to ‘ideas that belong in the last century’. It’s a head-spinning cliff’s edge that we’ve already fallen off, with a seemingly immovable rock-face of ‘we won’t listen’ from the government in front of us. It’s enough to make you want to go home, have a cup of tea, and hope that you’ll soon wake up and discover it was all a nightmare.

But it isn’t. We all knew the reports weren’t going to reveal buttercups and sunshine. But the report – quite by accident – reveals something else.

100,000 disabled people contributed to the Shadow Report. I’m going to type that again: one hundred thousand people, all working together to promote the rights of disabled people. That’s an extraordinary number – that’s more than the membership of the Liberal Democrats, or more than the membership of UKIP and the Green Party combined.

The skills, the passion, the teamwork and the level of experience used to put this report together without a single pound of government funding shows just how much talent there is out there, and just how much people care.

I have heard it doubted as to whether the Disabled People’s Movement, which achieved so much in the 1990s. still exists today. Well this report proves there’s still something there.

With the invention of the internet, many more people are able to find out whether the information they’ve been told is correct; to check what the politicians previously promised and to join in with local and national organisations.

Social media has enabled thousands of people to communicate instantaneously across hundreds of miles, without waiting for the postman. Advice and support can sometimes be available in just 140 characters, and news spreads faster than the common cold.

The very same people who feel they have been let down again and again are the very same people who wrote this report: I don’t think they’ll be hanging up their shoes just yet.

The UN aren’t going to swoop in and make everything OK, but that doesn’t mean we’re stuck where we are. There are 100,000 people pushing forward – it’s going to take more than a scary report to stop that.

By Fleur Perry

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